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Through the first three weeks of the NFL Regular Season, Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown for 12 touchdowns, 1,143 yards, no interceptions, and currently has a passer rating of 134.7. The season may still be young, but if Manning can continue to put up these kinds of numbers, almost every passing record in the book will not only be broken, but obliterated. With Denver boasting perhaps the best receiver corps in the league (Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas), and a solid offensive line, there is no reason to doubt that Manning won’t be able to keep up this level of production. Throw the Broncos’ relatively easy schedule into the mix, and this is a team which could potentially head into the playoffs undefeated. So, can anyone stop the Broncos from making it to Super Bowl XLVIII?
Denver also has a formidable defense, which will be enhanced by the return of Von Milller from suspension, so teams with high powered offenses, who would look solely to outscore Manning and Co., could well be out of luck. The keys to beating Denver surely revolve around having a pass rush which can get to Manning, and get to him quickly, whilst also having a secondary capable of staying with the Broncos’ talented receivers long enough, to allow the aforementioned pass rush to sack, or at least hurry, the veteran quarterback. The team will also need to be able to score efficiently, as even the best defenses will leak points to the Broncos, meaning the offense cannot afford to give up turnovers, or repeated three and outs. To summarize what’s needed to beat the Broncos; an efficient pass rush, smothering secondary, and an offense able to score points quickly if needed.
The Broncos may have all but sealed their place in the playoffs by the time they first meet a team which meets all these criteria, when they travel to New England to take on the Patriots in Week 12. Statistically, the Patriots have not looked like a premiere pass rushing defense, but they have managed to pressure opposing quarterbacks in all three of their games so far, and their secondary has been reaping the rewards. Corner Aqib Talib leads the league in interceptions with three, and along with Devin McCourty, has been a key component in ensuring the Patriots remain undefeated heading into Week 4. The New England offense has had its well publicized struggles so far this season, but looks to be improving, and should more closely resemble a traditional Patriots’ offense come Week 12. Of the three components required to beat Denver, it would be hard to argue that New England is elite in any of the categories, but with the support of a home crowd, and standout performances from the likes of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, it’s a potential banana skin for the Broncos.
A week later and Denver are on the road again, this time travelling to take on divisional rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. Outside linebacker Justin Houston is an early frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, registering 7.5 sacks in just his first three games, and along with Tamba Hali, forms an explosive pass rush, which will help a secondary which often has to rely on Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry. Whilst on paper their defense seems to be a match for the Broncos, questions remain as to whether or not their offense could put up the required points however, and if they were to spring an upset, quarterback Alex Smith and star receiver Dwayne Bowe would need to show much improved chemistry than they have done thus far.
The penultimate week of the NFL Regular Season sees the Houston Texans host the Broncos, but they will need to show much more than they have so far this season, if they are to challenge Denver. Similarly to the Chiefs, the Texans have all the components on defense required, with J.J. Watt leading the pass rush, and the veteran Ed Reed still a worthy opponent for Manning in the secondary. Improvements will be needed offensively however, particularly in regards to consistency, but the weapons are certainly there, and with the Broncos’ most likely having already secured their playoff berth at this time, could take their foot off the gas, and slip to a loss in Houston.
Assuming the Broncos make the playoffs, and that seems a fairly safe assumption at the current time, they will be posed bigger challenges, not least so by a team, who they blew away in the opening week. The Baltimore Ravens defense has not given up a single touchdown since they played Denver, and looks to be growing stronger with each week that passes. If Joe Flacco can get on the same page as his young receiving corps, and the running back tandem of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce can stay healthy, then the Ravens could be plotting the perfect revenge for their Week 1 humbling. The Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets are two of the less talked about teams who could surprise the Broncos, given that they both have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. Both teams are having success at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, have talent in the secondary, and boast young offenses which should only improve over the course of the season.
Even with that all in mind, the Denver Broncos finishing the season 16-0 is a very real possibility, especially with the return of Von Miller likely to prove a big boost, and rookie running back Montee Ball looking stronger each week as he acclimatizes himself to the NFL. That being said, the loss of Ryan Clady, who was protecting Manning’s blindside, cannot be underestimated, and does open the door for the AFC’s more proficient pass rushing sides to ruffle Denver’s feathers. On current form though, it would take a brave man to bet against Denver making it all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they could potentially meet the Seattle Seahawks and their ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary. Peyton Manning and his receivers going toe-to-toe with Richard Sherman et al. would be an epic encounter, and one the neutral can only hope to see come February.
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